I see many kinds of IP cards. I always buy the same one and I have a feeling I don’t always get the same amount of speaking time depending on which time I call home. Could I have some help sorting out which is the best card for calling North America? — Toneless in Shanghai
IP cards in China are a crap shoot. We have never figured out the exact rates, and we have never paid much attention to what kind of IP card we purchase, either from a tout on the street or our local xiaomaibu. We just know that you should never pay face value — or anything close to it — for an IP card. The last time we purchased IP cards we paid 30 kuai for a RMB 100 card.
But it’s a been a couple months since we bought one, because we have fallen in love with Skype, or more specifically SkypeOut. Now these online telephony ideas aren’t for everyone — they require a computer with speakers, a microphone and internet access — but we figure since you are accessing this website you’re at least halfway there. Traditional Skype, like free voice chat services offered by Yahoo! (PC only), MSN (PC only), iChat and the brand-spankin’-new Google Talk, requires the parties on either end of the line to be online. This can be a problem — not all relatives and friends back home are as
geeky tech-savvy as we are.
That’s why SkypeOut is so great. You can use your computer to call actual telephones. And it’s cheap … really cheap. About 2 cents a minute. And there is no mystery about the rates, either. The application keeps track of minutes talked and prominently shows your remaining balance. Best of all, SkypeOut works with almost all operating systems — including Mac — as all applications should. As for call quality, SkypeOut is more reliable that most IP cards Shanghaiist has tried in Shanghai. We use earphones during calls, so the people we talk to don’t hear an echo. At peak calling times (you can see how many Skype users are online when you log on) there is sometimes a slight delay, but it’s no big deal. We use the microphone built into our iBook, and we’ve had no complaints — people say we sound like we are using a speakerphone, but we are clear.
Calling through a computer isn’t for everyone, though. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to move around when your parents go on and on and on and on and on. And if you don’t want to try your luck on an IP card from the street, there are some online options that may or may not be more reliable.
So, good luck. And if you do get ahold of mom and dad, please tell them to send Shanghaiist some Orbit gum. We are starting to run out.
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